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We Be Shaman

Last stop in this little series of traditional Asian religions…Shamanism and some insights into how it may affect the context of Asian American churches today. All this info courtesy of Prof. Rodger Nishioka.

Shamanism refers to a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world and is based on the premise that the visible world is pervade by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. In contrast to animism, shamanism requires specialized knowledge or abilities. Among the functions of the Shaman are healing, storytelling, fortune-telling, leading rituals for cursing or cleansing and birthing or dying. The Shaman mediates between this world and the other world through ecstatic experiences and “soul flight.” In many ancient Asian traditions, there is a strong history of female shaman.

How has Shamanism influenced practices in Asian American churches?

  1. A ready acceptance of the Holy Spirit and belief in its power in our daily lives combined with a sense of evil spirits opposing the Holy Spirit leads to lots of attribution to Satan.
  2. Significant reliance on the Holy Spirit and spiritual experiences that are often highly emotive and emotion charged.
  3. Congregations look at the preacher as the shaman and may expect him or her to be closer to God and to act as an intermediary or intercessor in some way.

OK, to this I have to add my own testimony that Korean Christianity is highly influenced by shamanism as an inordinate amount of concerns are passed on to the pastor with his/her chief responsibility providing the blessing and fulfilling some spiritual (or superstitious) aspect. Whether it was the opening of a business or the final prayer at a meeting or the sought after prayer for healing, the pastor was the shaman. This is what leads to a lot of the notion that a pastor is a white-collar profession among Koreans. Also the notion of 통성기도 (praying out loud together) ecstatically has its roots in shamanism as well. The invisible world of Shamanism is baptized under the more Pentecostal strain and spiritual warfare is huge in some circles. Koreans are known for their passion and in the spiritual context, shamanism gave voice to that passion and energy for so long, it is hard to distinguish whether or not that is our mode for worshiping Christ now that we have become Christian. What’s the alternative look like?


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

10 responses to “We Be Shaman

  1. elderj

    Of all the varied traditions, this one I think is the one that brings the Black church and Asian (specifically Korean) churches closest together. I don’t know that there needs to be an alternative per se, but that may simply be my own shamanistic tendencies coming to surface.

  2. jadanzzy

    Snap. Are these remnants of Asian culture to be embraced? Discarded? or seen as inevitable?

    BTW, is Nishioka speaking next Wednesday?

  3. Letitia

    David, I have enjoyed this series by Rodger Nishioka! It touched something rattling around in my mind for a while, so I wanted to reply. However, it became very long, so I posted it on my own blog. I’d like to know what others are thinking, so please give me some feedback.

    As Asian Christians, these questions are exactly the ones we ought to be asking ourselves. Thank you for bringing it up here.

  4. Peter ⋅

    so how do i explain this to my mother?!

  5. Letitia

    Peter, try reading my commentary on this. Maybe it could help.


  6. Pingback: Intepreting Without Ego « headsparks*

  7. Eric Chang ⋅

    The practice of all praying aloud simultaneously is not merely Shamanistic.
    Supposedly, according to Peter Cha, at Trinity, this is a prayer practice that came along with the Methodist missionaries, and was practiced in the U.S. around the time the missionaries were sent. What should be noted is that the practice faded in the U.S., while it continued in Korea.

    What about the idea that culture has latent expression of how we were designed by God? While I would not blur Shamanism and Christianity, the commonality of certain practices would either be from the same original source (but one being bent) or both manifesting this latency.

  8. Eric Chang ⋅

    Wrestling with our roots with sensitivity and openness is a tough task, but extremely relevant if we wish to reach beyond human redemption to the redemption of culture. It would seem best to focus on building where there is strength and grow (fruitfulness & God’s blessing). Thanks for the posts. They were helpful to me, and stimulating.

  9. eric, thank YOU for your comments. it’s always great to get feedback as we put these thoughts out there and yours are particularly thoughtful and encouraging. there is a lot to be said about trying to influence our culture and this generation moving forward, but hopefully, slowly, surely, with the help of the Spirit we can participate in small and meaningful ways.

  10. elderj

    by the way… Koreans aren’t the only ones that practice tong sung kido… many West Africans do as well

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